Hiding in the Cubby Days: Redefining Anxiety (The Truth about Mental Health)

When our youngest was in kindergarten, I went to pick him up from school and saw the teacher shaking her head at me from across the long hallway.

It wasn’t an angry shake or even a disappointed shake. It was really more of the sad, I-wish-this-world-was-less-hard kind of shake.

You see, our sweet Zeke is on the Spectrum. Most days we don’t even notice it. Zeke thinks different, responds differently, I’m convinced even tastes differently, but you never know when it’s going to kick in. Our life looks more like, “Surprise, it’s Austism Day!” than “My name is autism, I have settled her for a long winter’s nap.”

Everyone’s experience with special needs is different.

This is ours.

That day with the kindergarten teacher, I listened to her tell me a story of my son’s experience in the world that doesn’t always understand frazzled nerves and pinched sensory systems and too bright, too loud, too soft, too…everything.

As the tears rolled down my cheeks, she told me the story of a small child so overwhelmed by the swirl of life around him that he hid himself in a cubby, folded himself right up into it, because it felt safe.

Zeke’s teacher was nothing short of amazing and she expressed perfectly my sentiment –

I just wish life was a little less hard. I wouldn’t want Zeke to be any different. I just want it all to be less hard for him.

Once I stepped back from the situation, I realized there have been many a day in my own life I’ve wanted to hide in a cubby…and for all the same reasons! Too much noise makes me grind my teeth, I’m easily irritated if I’m hungry or tired, and goodness knows I have lots of opinions about colors, lights, and textures.

As a grown-up discovering how to wander through my own journey of life with anxiety, I was struck by how often our medical and scientific definitions don’t quite fit for anxiety, each missing a piece. Nothing offered as a definition ever felt full enough to me.

Today on the podcast I offer a fuller definition of anxiety. I’ve been researching and compiling this definition since graduate school, through the wisdom and research of books and academic articles, observation in my own life and therapeutic treatment for anxiety, and also my observations as a therapist. It’s not meant to be a complete definition, but an open conversation, a re-contextualizing of the pieces of our experiences with anxiety and how we understand it.

I’m hoping that this work will help us to:

– be more mindful for the sake of those around us with anxiety or sensory struggles

– help individuals understand the “why” of different components of treatment – in particular medication, therapy, and connection

– move toward better long term treatment of anxiety by encouraging expanded research concerning the definitions we utilize

– offer better spiritual care for anxiety, mental health, and working toward ending the stigma associated with both

The Truth about Mental Health….some days we all want to hid in cubbies.

Episode 43 – Defining Anxiety: A Recontextualization

*No small children were harmed in the writing of this article. Permission was granted by my son to share his story.

Murky Waters: Fear, Anxiety, and Worry – The Truth about Mental Health

Murky waters…

I remember the time I was on a mission trip to Latvia with two of my, then favorite college students, now very dear friends. We were teaching ESL on a farm in unseasonably warm 96 degree weather. There was a pretty little lake to swim in. During a break one day, we got our bathing suits on, slathered on some sunscreen, grabbed a beach towel, and headed to the lake.

The water was refreshing, although surprisingly murky, which is how we found out a tiny bit too late that the lake was also the habitat for thousands of leeches.

I about lost my stuff.

I had the closest thing to a panic attack I’ve ever experienced. My breath stopped mid-swim. I was sinking. I was powerless to move my arms or my legs, yet somehow I was still chopping, still kicking at the water in a hopeless, full-on flail. My eyes were wide open, but I could see nothing as I went under in those murky waters, aware of only those little black slithering creatures that I was sure were out to get me.

Then, strength and power reached down.

I felt two hands grab under my arms. There were legs kicking me to shore and the familiar voice of my friend David assuring me it was going to be okay,

“It’ll be alright. I have you. I’ve got you.”

Anything God develops for good, Satan will overdevelop for his purposes. While fear wasn’t there at Creation, God certainly gave each of us an innate sense of danger, which kicked in full throttle for me that day at the lake.

This makes fear, anxiety, and worry messy things within themselves. Add that to the murky waters of a messy life and it gets complicated quickly.

Today starts the I Love My Shepherd podcast series –

The Truth About Mental Health: Anxiety

Look for four episodes in the coming weeks:

Today, Episode 42 – Distinguishing Fear, Worry, and Anxiety

Episode 43 – Defining Anxiety: A Recontextualization

Episode 44 – Developing a Theology of Anxiety

Episode 45 – Practical Tools for Anxiety

Whether you deal with anxiety yourself, care for those who experience anxiety in your family or as a professional, or you want to be more aware of how to speak encouragement and life to people in your church and in your neighborhood, know that we are in this walk together.

God is the greater, stronger, perfect version of my friend at the lake. He reaches in and picks us up from the murky waters of life. Sometimes He rescues us from the lake, and sometimes he chooses to help us swim through the mud, but He is at work.

“I have you. I’ve got you.”

Please share your experiences with me. Tell me what you have learned on your own journey with anxiety or helping another. Again, this podcast series is not a substitute for counseling and local resources, but there is always something new to learn and I’d like to at least open a conversation.

The Truth about Mental Health –

Anxiety = the murky waters of a messy life

We will feel the intensity of this broken world at times, all of us in different ways. It’s so much better with God in the midst of it all.

Ministry Moment: Happy Hour

Ministry doesn’t have to be boring.

All the things that make ministry what it is – relationships, people, theology, God’s Word, Truth, Hope – all of those are far from boring.

Sometimes, though, we do need some fresh ideas, while clinging firmly to Truth. So here’s a new idea for the new year!

I recently sat down with our friend and colleague, Matt Wingert, Director of Youth Ministry Extraordinaire to share a concept we use at our own church, that we thought all churches would benefit from. He found it once-upon-a -time via the pretty great pastor of his church in California.

It’s not a complex idea. It’s not a scripted idea and it’s not a time consuming idea. It is an idea simply meant to build relationship, inside the church, outside the church, and around and through the church – just being a light of life together in this dark world.

Today’s Ministry Moment is…Happy Hour!

4-7pm, 5-8pm, whatever time of your choosing: some drinks, some snacks, friendship, conversation, an open house and an open door.

As Matt shares with us in this podcast, “Invite the churched, the unchurched, and the church across the street…”

Happy Hour is the Gospel shared in homes and with people you wouldn’t necessarily meet otherwise. It’s the people of God spending time together outside the four walls of the church building. It’s relationships happening on the good days and the bad.

Find out more details on what Happy Hour is, how it works, and how to implement it in your time and place on the podcast: